Washington Connection 2/9/2018

Welcome to the Washington Connection, the legislative and information service of the American Council of the Blind.  The Washington Connection is brought to you by the ACB national office.  If you have any questions or comments on the information provided, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask to speak with Tony Stephens.
 
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of February 9, 2018. Messages 2 and 6 are new.
 
ACB Radio by Phone Has New Phone Number

 
Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.
 
ACB Radio by Phone Has New Phone Number
 
Once again, AudioNow has given ACB Radio a new phone number. To listen to ACB Radio by telephone, dial (712) 775-4808.
 
The number to listen to “The ACB Braille Forum,” “E-Forum” and “ACB Reports” remains the same, (605) 475-8154.
 
ACB Action Alert: Urge Your Representatives to Vote No on H.R. 620
 
The House of Representatives is expected next week to vote on legislation that will curtail the ability for people with disabilities to seek legal action when they encounter violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ACB urges its members and allies to call their congressional representative and tell the member of Congress to vote “NO” on H.R. 620, the ADA Education & Reform Act.
 
This legislation has received bipartisan support by members of Congress who have been lobbied heavily by shopping center, restaurant, and hotel associations, with absolutely no input from consumer disability rights organizations like ACB. The result is legislation that makes it more difficult to resolve accessibility issues around physical access to public places protected under the ADA. As businesses continue to put up more barriers like inaccessible kiosks and fail to meet other ADA standards, it is important for every individual with a disability to let his or her elected official know that a few bad apples should not dismantle the ADA. 
 
You can reach your member of Congress by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Below are some talking points being circulated that can assist you in your outreach.
 

  • H.R. 620 will take away the civil rights of people with disabilities.
  • It will make people with disabilities wait for up to 180 days for services that other people have immediate access to.
  • The wait may be even longer than 180 days because a business that is making “substantial progress” toward fixing a problem can take even longer than 180 days.
  • H.R. 620 will eliminate the need for businesses to be accessible until a complaint is received; there will be no need to make a business accessible until someone complains; that will mean many groups building new buildings, renovating buildings, opening new businesses will not make their services accessible.
  • H.R. 620 shifts the burden of accessibility from those who offer services to the person with a disability; no other group needs to prove their right to access to publicly offered services.
  • We should not be gutting the rights of people with disabilities; if there is a problem, we should be limiting the actions of a small number of lawyers who are bad actors.
  • H.R. 620 will take away the civil rights of people with disabilities. Would we ever think about eliminating the rights of any other group of Americans? This is disgraceful.

 
To learn more, visit the legislation’s Congressional web page at
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/620. Thanks for your continued advocacy to assure equal access and opportunity for Americans who are blind and visually impaired.
 
Voting in ACB: A Proposal for Your Consideration
by Jeff Thom

 
Last year, on behalf of the ACB voting task force, I wrote two articles for “The ACB Braille Forum” on extending voting to those not attending the ACB conference and convention. Specifically, the articles discussed the reasons for implementing such a system, an outline of how the system might work, and some of the questions and concerns that arise if such a system were implemented. The goal was to begin a dialogue among the membership about whether this momentous step should be taken.
 
At its fall board meeting, the ACB board of directors took action to further move the discussion along. It adopted the following motion: Pomerantz moved and McCann seconded that the ACB board direct the voting task force to prepare a report providing the findings and input from participants in the mock election, that report to include possible voting models and/or directions for further action, including cost considerations, and that this report be distributed through all communications media including ACB Radio, “The ACB Braille Forum,” and that this report be disseminated by no later than the 2018 midyear meetings.
 
The mock election referred to in the motion was held during May of 2017. In this election, those on the leadership listserv were used as a sample set of voters. Participants cast their ballots online and via telephone on both a resolution and a ballot for an office. We used the VoteNow system, the same system that both GDUI and Blind Pride International (BPI) are currently using for their elections. We had a number of comments on the mock election and, although several different issues were raised, the overall view, even among most of those who had concerns, was that it was easy to use the system and a positive experience. However, the goal of that mock election was primarily to allow folks to understand how the system works from a technological standpoint, not to answer the ultimate questions of how we might modify our electoral process and the desirability of doing so.
 
In response to the board motion quoted above, the voting task force met once in November and once in December. The outcome of that meeting is a proposal for the implementation of voting in the election of ACB officers, and directors and members of the board of publications for all members, whether attending convention or not. This proposal will be distributed both through ACB listservs and “The ACB Braille Forum,” as well as discussed at the presidents’ meeting in February. The voting task force is not recommending either acceptance or rejection of the plan, but feels strongly that the plan needs full consideration, including the consequences of not extending voting beyond those attending convention.
 
Before setting forth the proposal and raising some of the questions and concerns that arise from it, I’d like to thank the task force members: Mitch Pomerantz, Pat Sheehan, and Ken Stewart, officer liaison Kim Charlson, executive director Eric Bridges, and perhaps most of all, staff member Lane Waters for his hard work on developing this proposal.
 
At the outset, let me say this proposal is the only one that, given all the variables that apply to our elections, and taking into consideration the state of existing technology, staff time, the cost of implementing a remote voting technology, and other factors, we could reasonably view as worth presenting.  Under this proposal, VoteNow, the system used by GDUI for several years and used in our mock election, would also be utilized to implement the individual vote segment of this voting procedure. We chose the VoteNow system after investigating several remote voting providers and considering them based on format, accessibility and cost.  As an example, some remote voting companies have online voting but not telephone voting, some have web sites that are not very accessible, some send emails but not postcards, and some are far more expensive than others.  From our review, we settled on VoteNow as the most effective system to meet our needs. It also helped to know that other ACB affiliates had gone through a similar review and arrived at the same conclusion.
 
The process would only apply to officer, director, and board of publications (BOP) elections, and not to resolutions and constitutional amendments. In addition, director and BOP seats that come open as a result of an earlier election would need to be handled in the traditional way, as there would likely not be time under the technology being used, for VoteNow to configure the ballot.
 
Before describing how the system would actually work in the ACB election context, it is important to recognize that our problem is that we do not fit the “true” remote voting business model; we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  In a remote voting business model, the ballot is typically known well in advance and is not created or changed within a matter of minutes - the provider has ample time to create and test the website and telephone ballots.  Additionally, voting occurs over an extended period of time - days or weeks, not minutes or hours as in our case. I want to commend VoteNow for trying extremely hard to accommodate to our needs if we were to adopt the proposal discussed below.
 
Under our proposal, 30 days prior to the ACB convention, the deadline for being a certified member of ACB for voting purposes, the ACB office would provide VoteNow with names of every member of ACB certified as eligible to vote. Two weeks prior to convention, VoteNow would provide postcards, and emails if desired, giving each member a personal identification code. That code would be needed to cast his or her vote. The nominating committee would likely continue to meet Sunday evening. The voting process would begin on Wednesday morning, with nominations from the floor and the affiliate vote. Once all nominations were made, VoteNow would configure the ballot. Individual voting would open Wednesday at noon and close Thursday at 8 a.m. Individuals would not vote on the convention floor, but would, like those not attending the convention, be able to vote with their identification codes via telephone or using a computer. The election results would be announced Thursday morning, and any board or BOP vacancies could be filled by elections conducted in the current manner during the Thursday session.
 
Let me now discuss some of the issues that using such a system would create. First, the cost of using VoteNow would be slightly in excess of $9,000. We would need to decide how to pay for this cost. VoteNow allows ACB to include biographies of the candidates. However, any candidate who chose to run from the floor would need to immediately have his/her biography ready for input into the system. Would we want biographies? If so, would we want to change our practice by mandating that any person who seeks to run for an office must declare at some point prior to the election on the floor? What do we do about elections where there are more than two candidates? We could have a run-off on Thursday, using the traditional method where only those at convention could vote, or we could make the highest vote-getter, even if less than a majority, the winner.
 
With respect to board elections, a losing candidate now has the opportunity to run in subsequent seats. Now, that opportunity wouldn’t occur, unless a vacant seat was created through a board member winning an officer election. Do we want to change our board of directors voting procedure to have one election under which a voter would cast the same number of votes as there are open seats? Should we be concerned that a glitch in designing the ballot could throw off the entire timing of the election? How concerned should we be that, since our elections often occur on or around July 4, short staffing on the part of VoteNow could cause a problem? Should we consider the elimination of affiliate voting, since every member would now have the right to cast a ballot? Should we be concerned that some elections would be handled using the new methodology, while others would need to be dealt with using the traditional one?
 
On the other hand, with issues such as potential declining convention attendance and possible membership facing us, is doing nothing a recipe for a gradual decline of ACB? Also, we cannot make any change in our voting procedure without modifying our constitution and bylaws. By way of example, we would need to modify various provisions that limit voting to those at convention. 
 
The voting task force wishes that there were easy answers to the issue of enabling all members to vote in ACB elections, but there are not. We hope, however, that all of you will help us make the right decision for ACB. Those of you attending the presidents’ meeting in February will have the opportunity to provide us with input at that time. However, it is crucial that as many members as possible provide their thoughts and ideas on the future of our system of voting in general and specifically on this proposal. You can provide input either by email at comments@acb.org or by leaving a telephone message (toll-free) at 1-877-926-1910.
 
Together, we will work toward the best solution for ACB.
 
Nationwide Class Action Challenges Hulu’s Discrimination against Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals
 
BOSTON — A coalition of blind and visually impaired individuals and advocacy groups filed a nationwide class action today against Hulu to end the video streaming company’s ongoing exclusion of blind and visually impaired Americans.  The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts — challenges Hulu’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
 
Hulu, one of the largest online-streaming services in the country, offers thousands of shows and movies, including award-winning original content, to most customers at the click of a mouse.  However, the company fails to provide audio description — a separate audio track that blind and visually impaired people need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie — for any streaming videos. 
 
Because Hulu fails to include audio description tracks on any of its streaming content, blind and visually impaired individuals cannot independently enjoy Hulu’s video streaming services.  Audio description is a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen, especially in scenes with no dialogue.  The audio description track plays between pauses in dialogue.  Hulu boasts an extensive library of live TV and on-demand movies and series — including its Emmy-award winning original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale” — but currently excludes customers who are blind and visually impaired.
 
In addition, Hulu’s website and applications are not accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers to navigate the internet.  A screen reader is software that converts the visually displayed content on the screen into audible, synthesized speech or outputs that information on a digital braille display.
 
The American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, and blind individuals brought this action to end Hulu’s discriminatory business practices.  Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, and the Disability Law Center (DLC), Massachusetts’s Protection and Advocacy system, represent these individuals and organizations.
 
Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind, said, “Movies and television are pillars of American culture.  As delivery of such media transitions to video streaming services, it is critical that these platforms be accessible in order to ensure the inclusion of blind and visually impaired individuals in contemporary society.”
 
Rebecca Williford, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA, said, “Hulu is owned by a collection of some of the most powerful companies in the entertainment business and is itself one of the nation’s most popular online streaming services.  Its utter failure to provide access to individuals who are blind and visually impaired is astonishing.”
 
“BSCB members have been expressing their concerns about Hulu’s lack of audio description for years now,” said Brian Charlson, President of Bay State Council of the Blind, “and it is time that Hulu join with other industry streaming services out there and meet its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
 
“As forms of entertainment evolve, equal access must transition to meet industry innovation. Equal access means the ability to fully use and enjoy all aspects of entertainment, just like everyone else,” said Christine Griffin, Executive Director of DLC.
 
Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, but seek only to achieve equal access to Hulu’s services.
 
A copy of this press release and the complaint can be found at http://dralegal.org/press/ nationwide-class-action-challenges-hulus-discrimination-blind-visually-impaired-individuals/.
 
ACB’s Remarks on Delta’s Revised Guidelines
 
The American Council of the Blind (ACB) is deeply concerned by recent actions from Delta Airlines that would create undue burden and deny equal access of service for passengers with service animals. ACB’s concern comes following a news release from Delta Airlines released this week outlining new restrictions for passengers flying with service and support animals.
 
ACB has long been concerned with the abuse and fraud of animals purporting to be service or support animals. However, Delta’s revised policy discriminates against those passengers with legitimate service dogs that have long been protected under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Such an over-reaching policy clearly makes travel more difficult for those individuals who rely on their service animals for travel. 
 
ACB believes that greater public outreach and more strict policies for those who are found to have committed fraud by posing pets as service or emotional support animals is a much more positive pathway toward resolving this issue. We stand willing to work with Delta and other airlines to find such solutions to this important issue.
 
ACB encourages passengers with guide dogs to share their own concerns by contacting the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. Let them know you believe Delta’s new policy creates undue burdens and denies equal access to service. They can be reached at (202) 366-2220, or online at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint.
 
AFB and APH Partner for a Future of No Limits for People Who Are Blind
 
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2018 — Today, the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Printing House for the Blind announced a partnership with the mutual goal of generating substantial impact on the lives of children and adults who are blind or visually impaired. APH will become the steward of several key programs founded by AFB and assume responsibility for ensuring their continued impact. AFB will take the work to a new level by investing in policy and programs focused on creating stronger social systems, and ultimately a more inclusive, accessible society for people with vision loss. These complementary strategies will ensure that people who are blind or have low vision can live a life of no limits, recognizing that the future belongs to everyone.
 
This decision comes following extensive strategic planning by both organizations. The partnership gives APH the opportunity to expand its lifelong learning offerings and gives AFB the opportunity to expand its influence on the research and policies that impact the lives of people with vision loss.
 
APH will become the caretakers of:

  • AFB Press – a program that publishes textbooks for college and university programs and professional books for teachers, researchers, and other professionals. The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) will remain in the care of AFB.
  • VisionAware – an online program that helps adults who are losing their sight continue to live full and independent lives by providing timely information, step-by-step daily living techniques, and a supportive online community.
  • FamilyConnect – an online program that gives parents of children who are visually impaired a place to find resources and support each other.
  • CareerConnect – an online program that provides employment information, career-exploration tools, and job-seeking guidance for individuals with vision loss and professionals who work with them.
  • BrailleBug – an online program that teaches children about braille through games and activities and provides resources to teachers and parents.

 
Both organizations are committed to a smooth transition and will be working in close partnership for several months.
 
“We are proud of what we have accomplished in partnership with so many in the field. This work has brought us to this crossroads where it is necessary for AFB to assume a stronger and more active voice in decisions that impact the broader world, particularly in the areas of education, employment, and aging and vision loss,” explains Kirk Adams, president and CEO of AFB. “We are excited about our new direction and optimistic about what the future holds for people who are blind or visually impaired. Our partnership with APH is a win-win for the people we serve.”
 
“Learning is critical to improving the lives of everyone across the life spectrum. Quality information is key for providing opportunities for employment, education and ultimately, happiness,” says Craig Meador, president of APH. “We are committed to continuing the standards of credibility and excellence established by AFB while evolving and growing these programs to keep them relevant in the 21st century knowledge economy.”
 
Both organizations are realigning priorities in response to the growing needs of children and adults who are blind and visually impaired. There are more than 25 million Americans with vision loss and those numbers are expected to grow as the population ages. As more people become blind or visually impaired, as schools experience a shortage of teachers trained to teach students with vision loss, as the economy and workforce changes, and as accessibility becomes even more essential to workforce training and technologies, service organizations are relying on new partnerships and sharing resources to provide the necessary supports and systems for people to succeed today and in the future.
 
Currency Case Update
 
In June 2016, the American Council of the Blind filed a motion in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to act judiciously and expeditiously in order to release accessible currency by December 31, 2020. The petition to the court followed a Treasury update stating that it would not have accessible currency until as late as 2026, thirteen years past the initial timeline set forth by the court in ACB v. Paulson. The Department of the Treasury claimed that the delay was not due to making currency accessible, but rather over concerns about counterfeiting advancements.
 
On the morning of October 19, 2017, ACB presented oral arguments before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding the extensive delays in implementing accessible tactile currency. During the hearing, the government gave little cause to its earlier argument that they had made meaningful access available through the e-currency readers.   
 
On December 26, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court must make a new determination as to whether all currency must be made accessible by 2026. The government is now attempting to delay implementation of the tactile feature on all currency denominations until the 2030s. To read the decision online, go to http://acb.org/system/files/Currency%20Case%20Decision.pdf.
 
In this connection, as part of our case for the next phase of court activity, ACB wishes to hear from both its members and non-members, expressing their real-life problems in dealing with paper currency. We are particularly interested in your difficulties and challenges when using currency in a public environment, such as when shopping at a store, receiving change from a teller, or riding in a taxi. We would like to gather your firsthand experiences, mishaps, near misses, or horror stories.

We would also like to hear of any difficulties people are having when using, or trying to use, the external talking currency reader supplied by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in a public setting.
 
We are asking that you provide ACB with this information in written form via email. Your individual comments will be reviewed by ACB staff, and then be sent to our attorney. ACB’s attorney will review your written comments, and, if appropriate, he will format these accounts that strengthen our case into affidavits for your signature. These signed affidavits will then be filed with the court.
 
Individuals wishing to provide statements for the court on issues and concerns with lack of accessible currency may send your statements to advocacy@acb.org. Feel free to call our national office with questions: (202) 467-5081.
 
We believe that your individual real-life stories will be critically important in attempting to persuade the court to set a firm deadline of 2026 for making all currency accessible. We look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible. 
 
2018 Midyear Meeting Information
 

Our phones have been ringing with requests for information about the 2018 midyear meeting. Below you will find the dates, the schedule of events, hotel information and a link to register. We hope you’ll join us!
 
The American Council of the Blind’s annual midyear meeting and legislative seminar will take place from Saturday, February 24, 2018 to Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 in Alexandria, Virginia.
 
2018 Schedule of Events:

Saturday, February 24: Board Meeting
Sunday, February 25: Affiliate Presidents’ Meeting
Monday, February 26: Legislative Seminar
Tuesday, February 27: Meeting with Legislators on Capitol Hill
 
Hotel Information:

Crowne Plaza Alexandria
Room rates (pretax): $117/night
Address: 901 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone number: (703) 683-6000
https://www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels/us/en/alexandria/axecp/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-CP-_-USA-_-AXECP
 
To view this announcement online, go to http://acb.org/2018-midyear.